Summary: Catalina’s a bit disappointed to receive a sewing kit from her Tía Abuela for her birthday. Usually Tía, a former telenovela star who is also named Catalina, gives more exciting gifts. For their first sewing lesson, Tía shows Cat how to fix her torn cat sweatshirt. Later, Cat realizes the sweatshirt can temporarily transform her into a cat. It turns out the sewing kit has magic in it that can change ordinary clothing into disguises. Becoming a cat comes in handy when a ruby goes missing from one of Tía’s most famous gowns on display at the local library. Cat and her frenemy Pablo combine forces to solve the mystery. This is the first of a four-part series, simultaneously released with book 2 (there’s a preview at the end of this book). Books 3 and 4 will be out later this year. 114 pages; grades 1-3.
Pros: There’s a lot going on in this early chapter book: magic, a mystery, and a few lessons about perseverance. The illustrations and larger font make it an appealing choice for younger kids.
Cons: The mystery didn’t start until about halfway through the book and wrapped up pretty quickly. I hope Pablo gets a bigger role in book 2.
Summary: Will’s struggling with his parents’ recent divorce, his father’s abandonment, and a move from New York City to the small town of East Emerson. At first he thinks that the monsters he’s seeing in his new town are some overenthusiastic Halloween fans, but before long he realizes that he alone can see the horrors all around him. Alone, that is, except for his somewhat eccentric neighbor Ivy, who’s in possession of a ring that allows her to see them as well. Her brilliantly geeky brother Linus doesn’t have the gift and isn’t sure what to believe, but the three of them ultimately form a team to solve the mystery of disappearing pets in town and discover the evil force behind it. Narrated by Adam Monster, with a voice that evokes A Series of Unfortunate Events, the book ends with a number of unresolved issues, paving the way for book 2 and beyond. 288 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Fans of Lemony Snicket, The Notebook of Doom series, and other books that combine humor and horror will enjoy this series opener that delivers plenty of both.
Cons: I was sure that Adam Monster’s identity would be revealed in a way that would somehow tie into the rest of the story, but at least in book 1 he seemed to be a somewhat random choice for a narrator.
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Summary: Ben Ripley has always dreamed of being a spy, but he’s still pretty shocked when he suddenly gets recruited to a school that’s secretly training young CIA operatives. The school is similar to a regular middle school in some ways: bad food, boring classes, and pompous administrators, but the attempted assassinations and hidden bombs put a new spin on things. It appears that someone has brought Ben to the school for their own nefarious purposes but trying to figure out who that is and why proves to be both challenging and dangerous. Fortunately, Ben is aided by Erica, the smartest (and coolest) girl in the school. The enemy is foiled at last, but a letter at the end promises a sequel, and fans of the non-graphic Spy School series know that Ben’s adventures are just beginning. 296 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: There are already legions of Spy School fans, and the graphic novel will undoubtedly recruit many more. I haven’t read the original, so I don’t know how this compares, but there’s plenty of action and humor which is always a winning combination for upper elementary and middle school.
Cons: The artwork lacked much background detail and was a bit flat.
Summary: When Maizy’s grandfather gets sick, she and her mother return to her mom’s childhood home in Last Chance, Minnesota. Maizy’s not excited at the prospect of spending an entire summer with grandparents she barely knows, but Last Chance proves to be surprisingly interesting. Her grandfather, Opa, tells her stories about Lucky, their ancestor from China who unexpectedly wound up in Last Chance and owned the Golden Palace restaurant that Maizy’s grandparents still run. Lucky encountered hatred and racism in America, but also kindness, and Maizy has some similar experiences. When the restaurant is targeted in a racist incident, Maizy is determined to find the culprit. Her grandfather’s tales lead her to dig deeper into the story of the Paper Sons whose pictures hang on the walls of the Golden Palace, and she starts to connect with other Chinese American people around the country. The whole community comes together when Maizy and her family need them the most, and she learns that there is more to many of her neighbors than meets the eye. Includes a 10-page author’s note with lots of photos telling of her own Chinese American family’s story. 288 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: There’s a lot packed into this fast-paced story, and Lisa Yee does an excellent job of tying up many different threads in a heartwarming final scene. Opa’s stories about Lucky are well-integrated into the text, each one just a page or two long so that it doesn’t feel like an interruption to the main narrative.
Cons: The fact that I loved the short chapters (some just a page long) probably doesn’t speak well for my diminished attention span.
Summary: Gina and her friends Edgar, Elena, and Kevin are dismissively referred to as GEEKs by a classmate. Each one has a passion that some consider geeky: Gina’s an aspiring investigative reporter; Edgar is into theater; Elena loves science; and Kevin is a mathematician who’s running for class president. They pool their talents to try to find a treasure rumored to have been hidden by Maxine Van Houten, inventor of the popular Bamboozler puzzle that helped her town flourish. Since her death, the town has fallen on hard times that are affecting all four of the kids’ families. As the GEEKs work their way through the clues left by Maxine, they start to suspect that someone is trying to beat them to the treasure. It’s a race against time that will require all the brainpower the four of them can muster. 320 pages; grades 4-6.
Pros: Mystery and puzzle fans will enjoy this treasure hunt story that celebrates friendship and loyalty as well as smarts. Billed as book 1, it looks like we will be seeing more about the GEEKs.
Cons: Readers may need to suspend their disbelief that the kids are able to solve the difficult puzzles as quickly as they do.
Summary: Ophie learns that she can see ghosts the night her father is killed by a lynch mob, and his spirit directs her how to save herself and her mother. The two of them flee to Pittsburgh, where they stay with relatives. The cousins bully Ophie, but her Aunt Rose, who also has the ability to see ghosts, instructs Ophie how to use her gift. When Ophie and her mother start working at Daffodil Manor, Ophie has her hands full serving mean old Mrs. Carruthers and trying to figure out with the various “haints” that occupy the house. One spirit in particular, a beautiful young woman named Clara, is kind and helpful to Ophie. Clara was killed in the house, but has no recollection of how it happened, and enlists Ophie to help her solve the mystery. Although Clara seems kind, she’s a ghost, and Aunt Rose has warned Ophie that ghosts can always be dangerous no matter how friendly they seem. As Ophie begins to unravel Clara’s mystery and close in on the murderer, it starts to seem as though danger is waiting for her in every corner of the spooky old mansion. 336 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Part ghost story, part historical fiction, this engaging story will draw readers in from the suspenseful prologue, and keep them guessing all the way to the end. Ophie’s life as a Black girl in the 1920’s, first in Georgia and then in Pittsburgh, is filled with injustice and hardship, and it takes all her strength and special gifts to turn things around for her and her mother. I hope this book will get some award consideration.
Cons: Not really a con, but more of a warning: if you don’t like spooky stories or aren’t quite ready for Halloween just yet, you may want to take this week off from reading the blog! 😉
Summary: These two collections of scary short stories were released in August, just in time to get in the library before Halloween. Only If You Dare has 13 stories, mostly about kids whose normal lives are disturbed by some supernatural aspect. They try to dismiss it at first, but eventually the nightmare comes true, the doll comes to life…well, you get the idea. Hide and Don’t Seek is a collection of 19 stories, with a little more variety in the format, including a poem, a story told all in texts, and a collection of letters from a summer camp that you might want to avoid sending your kids to. Both books have plenty of illustrations just in case your imagination isn’t overstimulated enough. Only If You Dare is 208 pages, Hide and Don’t Seek is 224; both recommended for grades 4-7.
Pros: Anyone who has worked in a library frequented by kids knows that these books will never be on the shelves. The demand for scary stories is huge, and these stories are truly creepy. Some kids’ horror is more funny than horrifying, but not these two collections. They are definitely scary without being too disturbing for the intended age group.
Cons: Horror is not and has never been my favorite genre, so reading 32 scary stories in a row…let’s just say I’ll be avoiding dolls and clowns for a while.
Summary: Every year, the residents of Wolver Hollow grow mustaches or wear fake ones on October 19. When Parker and Lucas get to fifth grade, they’re old enough to finally learn why. According to local legend, many years ago Wolver Hollow resident Bockius Beauregard was vaporized in an explosion, with only his mustache surviving. Every year the haunted mustache goes out looking for a hair-free lip to rest on. The two boys decide to investigate to find out if the tale is true, reluctantly including their classmate, ghost expert Samantha von Oppelstein. The three of them have a series of hair-raising adventures, but finally succeed in defeating the mustache. Or do they? 160 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This first of a three-part series is just the right blend of funny and scary for new chapter book readers. The cliffhanger ending will have kids eagerly seeking out book 2. Book 3 comes out in February.
Cons: I hope the boys will eventually feel comfortable enough with Samantha von Oppelstein to drop the von Oppelstein and simply call her Samantha.
Summary: On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle. Six hours later, that man parachuted out of the back of the plane with $200,000 strapped to him. No trace of him has ever been found, and only a small portion of the money has been recovered ($5,800 was discovered by a 10-year-old boy in 1980 when he was camping with his family in the woods of Washington). The details of what happened that day are retold here with brief text, illustrations, and primary documents such as Cooper’s boarding pass and the transcript from the plane alerting the authorities about the hijacking. Includes half a dozen photos and a list of sources. 104 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It’s hard to imagine a kid unimaginative enough not to be intrigued by this mystery (and gobsmacked that in 1971 you could walk into an airport with a bomb, buy a ticket for $20, and saunter onto a plane unchecked). The graphic format is appealing, but it’s also well-written nonfiction, with theories put forth and then carefully debunked, primary documents, and an impressive list of sources. Look for book 2, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, coming in early September.
Cons: The font, designed to look like it was made with a typewriter that needs a new ribbon, feels authentic but is not necessarily the easiest for kids to read.
Summary: Aven Green from Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus tells how she got her start as a detective back in third grade. In this first installment, she’s working on two mysteries: who is stealing food at her elementary school and what has happened to her grandmother’s beloved dog? Aven is confident in her problem-solving ability (“all of the cells that were supposed to make my arms went into making my brain instead”), and has some good friends who are happy to help. Both cases are cracked by the last page, and there’s a preview of book two, due out in August. Includes a glossary of Aven’s sleuthing words. 128 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: It’s great to meet Aven as a third-grader and learn how she got her start solving mysteries. She is matter-of-fact in her explanation of how she was born with no arms, and both the text and the illustrations show her doing everything for herself with her feet. Her voice is funny and confident, making this a surefire hit with the early chapter book crowd.
Cons: I’m not sure if that crowd will understand the hemorrhoid joke in the “Robot Chickens” chapter.